Living Imperfectly Sober Rather Than Perfectly Drunk
Ian S, New Jersey
My name is Ian S., generally better known in various online circles as "Blue Moon." I am an alcoholic.
I grew up in Hampshire, England. I was the youngest in an ordinary family living in an ordinary house on an ordinary street. I was the "odd" one. I was born with a physical defect known as "cleft lip and palate."
As a child I hated my physical appearance. Being different is not easy at any time if you can't accept it about yourself, but as a child or in a bar it's probably most difficult of all. I discovered that children and drunks lack tact and can ask questions you may not want to face.
My brother and I really wanted for nothing, but I never felt that way. I was always looking at the bright toys and clothes that others seemed to have. I always seemed to receive hand-me-downs, it was my older brother who got all the new stuff. Whenever I did get something new, the novelty would wear off remarkably quickly.
I was probably an alcoholic in the making. I always felt different. Alcohol helped me feel normal.
A glass of wine with Sunday dinner was common practice. I remember being educated on the dangers of drugs during such meals. Any dangers associated with alcohol were never mentioned; apparently people who drink and drive were just bad people.
The first time I was given free-reign with booze was the first occasion I got drunk. I was about fourteen years old at the time and away from home on a camping trip. I got drunk on "Woodpecker cider." Unlike many others, I did not black out. I remember trying to walk along a path, wondering why it was moving about so much. I remember being in the arms of a girl (sober I was almost as fearful of females as I was males). I remember throwing up. I remember waking up during the night, quite literally paralytic. I could hear voices, and knew a couple of people were in the room. But I couldn't communicate.
The next morning, I vowed never to get drunk again.
Over the next few years, I drank infrequently. But when I did, the amount I consumed was generally regulated by how much booze was readily available. I was more careful in social situations because I feared making a fool of myself ... from an early age I had learned "if they don't see you, they leave you alone."
Over the next fifteen years I progressed in frequency of drunken bouts at home. I was a binge drinker, sometimes daily.
At the end of my drinking, I was 29 years old, living alone in a one-bed flat, with two failed marriages behind me. On numerous occasions I had tried to moderate my drinking, or reduce the number of days in the week that I drank. But each time, as soon as I eased up on diligence, the drinking increased. Trying to control it was really becoming a full-time career. I would wake at four in the morning, drenched in sweat, wondering if I was alcoholic. I would decide not to drink. But then, before the cap was off the first beer, I would change the decision to "I'll quit tomorrow."
I had little effective mental defense against the first drink.
I was suffering physical effects, but didn't relate these to drinking. I just thought it was normal to wake drenched in sweat. I thought that panty-liners were designed wrongly, because they were cut too low and so didn't really help with the diarrhea. I thought it was normal to avoid looking in the mirror when you shave. I thought it was normal to break in through a window if your wife locks you out of the house.
Strangely, since stopping drinking I find that I no longer have the sweats, I no longer feel a need to wear panty liners, and I can shave better because I can see what I'm doing. Windows tend to remain intact; though banging my head on one can still make its future existence somewhat untenable for a moment.
I did drink and drive, but convinced myself that "it's okay if you get away with it.” I was a much better driver than everyone else was anyway, so what's the problem? Such is the delusion of self that alcoholism brings, whether drunk or sober.
My life got worse when I quit drinking. It wasn't just a matter of sweating it out physically. Emotionally I was terrified and locked away in my own home, but now without alcohol to numb the pain. Alcohol is not the problem, folks! If it was, the solution would be to just quit drinking and go home. For a long time, alcohol was the solution to a problem I didn't even understand, and certainly couldn't admit to, what with being humbly perfect already.
Life isn't perfect, nor is any person living it. I still get grumpy, still have "off days,” can still feel anger or fear. But A.A.'s Steps gave me structure to begin learning how to go about the business of "living sober.”
People quit drinking every day. Staying stopped is another matter. I have decided that A.A. is not about quitting drinking at all. A.A. doesn't do detoxes or prescribe valium for the withdrawals. AA is about learning how to live imperfectly sober rather than perfectly drunk.